Singing The Energy Blues

Joan Maute, FOLKSONG IN THE CLASSROOM(IX,20), W/’89, Pp. 54-56.
(reprinted from MICHIGAN MIDDLE SCHOOL JOURNAL [13,2], Spr./’88, Pp. 4-6)

Energy conservation, alternative energies, and future power…these are subjects that need to be explored and taught in the middle years. These energy-related subjects are, however, somewhat foreign to our students who seem to have a hard time relating energy beyond the ever present AA batteries that power their lives. The challenge of teachers then becomes one of relating future needs to present situations. How can we get these students who have little concept of next week, let alone the next decade, to become interested in studying alternatives energies?

Music Reinforces Learning

Whenever possible, I use music to help introduce and reinforce concepts we will be studying. Since I am an old “folkie” from the sixties, this is easy for me. I simply write a song that includes the information I want the students to discuss and/or remember. I realize that it probably isn’t possible for everyone, however, it is easier than you think. The music is a unique way to introduce a subject, and while my students rarely ask to borrow a tape to take home, they do appreciate a different approach to subject matter in the classroom. They have also discovered the power of music to help them remember the content in the lyrics.

What I’d like to do in this article is show you how to use the two songs I’ve included as an introduction for energy lessons you might want to teach. The first song, “Talking Conservation Blues”, relates energy conservation to our students’ lives and the second, “The Solar Power Rag”, gives practical applications of one alternative energy. Before we get into the mechanics of using music in the classroom, you need to realize an important fact. Music doesn’t teach, you do. The songs are merely tools to help you do your job and help your students get involved in the learning.

Transforming Written Words To Music

Your first problem will be how to transform the written words in this article to music you can use in your classroom. I simply sing the song to my students, or use a tape I have recorded for that purpose. I see two or three possibilities for the teacher who cannot sing. The first is to go to your students for help. All you have to do is mention the magic words, “extra credit”, and your students will be all ears. Explain that you need help with an upcoming unit and ask for volunteers who can read music, play the guitar or keyboards, sing, and/or “rap”. If you get the volunteers, meet with them after class and show them the music. Ask them to take the music home and see if they can work out one of the songs. Once this is done, they can either perform one of the songs for the class, or make a video or audio tape for the initial classroom presentation and perhaps a live performance as part of the review. The second possibility is to entice your music or band teacher to become involved in the lessons. This is great for interdisciplinary learning, but will depend on your schedule, your school’s support of such activities, and how well you can play “Let’s Make A Deal” with the other teacher.

How To Make The Lesson “Fly”

Now that you have a way to present the music to your class, how do you make the lesson fly? First of all, make sure you have made copies of the lyrics for your students. I would start with “The Talking Conservation Blues”. Prior to using the song, why not ask you students to list all of the energy they have used in the past 24 hours? Have them make individual lists and keep them for comparison later. Once this is done, you have the perfect introduction for the song. Ask them to listen to the story of a student who had a similar assignment. At this point hand out the lyrics. Ask the students to follow the lyrics as the song is played or performed. Suggest that they listen for appliances that they used but did not put on their list. Once the song has been completed, direct a discussion about the students’ attitude at the beginning of the song, at the end of the song, and how and why that attitude changed. This is also a good time to have your students look at their lists and share what they included and forgot. The point of the song is obviously that students do use energy and there are ways they can control energy use now. Let this song lead you into a concentrated study and action plan for individual or school-wide conservation, or simply to the next lesson, which is about solar energy.